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From the
July 2009 issue of:

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Market, Sell & Service Passionately: Timeshare Survival Strategies & Tactics from the Economic Trenches
by Alan N. Schlaifer
Law Offices of Alan N. Schlaifer, P.C.
The proverbial tide of pessimistic perceptions may have turned. With consumer confidence rising and the stock market up significantly from its low, plus many negative signs, such as unemployment, slowing in deterioration, the timeshare industry may be able to benefit.

As we noted last month, positive spirits were much in evidence at the recent ARDA - American Resort Development Association – Annual Convention and Expo in Orlando. One of the most powerful emotions, present throughout, was passion. Fueling it was bedrock resilience from leaders who had weathered past economic storms and challenges.

Survivors – and those in attendance were and are survivors – shared stories of the strategies they have adopted and actions they have taken. They described what is working, and what isn’t, in every aspect of their sales and marketing from the various tour generation modes to their generally smaller, but more productive, sales lines.

In the spirit of sharing, we offer you what we hope will be useful information, from the convention sessions and beyond, that you may want to consider.

These methods of marketing and sales have vital companions – service and responsiveness throughout your company to customers, community, suppliers and other stakeholders – and passion to serve in all you do – to underline your commitment and help you succeed.

Effective Leadership in Stressful Times: Cultivating a Positive Work Culture
That was the theme of a session that featured consultant Michael T. Denisoff, M.B.A., President, Denisoff Consulting Group, Redondo Beach, CA (;; 949.293.2797).

One of his central themes is that the economy “is what it is.” What should be characterized as good or bad is not the economy, but rather “the leadership response to the present reality.” He points out, “When a company is highly profitable, it is often running less efficiently and effectively as the influx of revenue covers up a wide variety of sins.”

Renowned author and speaker Jack Canfield has a similar view. He went forward with his phenomenal Chicken Soup for the Soul series that has sold over 100 million books, despite numerous rejections from prospective publishers before the first title hit the presses.

“It seems that everywhere I go these days,” he wrote, “I hear people talking about the economy. While some are fearful, others see this as a time for tremendous opportunity. The truth is, the economy is the same for everyone, it’s how you respond that matters.”

“It’s yet another example of what I’ve been teaching for years. . .

E R = O

E stands for all the ‘events’ of our lives.
R stands for our ‘responses’ to those events.
O stands for the ‘outcomes’ we experience.”

Canfield continued, “If we all experience the same Event, the question of what Outcome you get will be totally dependent upon your Response to the situation. Will your outcome be fear and despair, or will your outcome be happiness and success? Remember, you control your destiny, so make it a fantastic one!”

On “Larry King Live,” he said, “Focus on what you want, and you get what you want. If you focus on what you don’t want, you get more of that. Our emotions follow our thoughts, and our behaviors follow our emotions. I choose to make myself happy. As Abraham Lincoln said back in 1865, ‘Happiness is a choice,’ and the truth is it really is.”

Consider not only your individual, business and family mindsets, but also the national one. In the U.S. and most of the 200 nations around the world, a powerful measure of impact and importance is the “GNP,” the Gross National Product.

In the Asian land of Bhutan in 1972, the King (no relation to Larry) created the concept of GNH, or “Gross National Happiness.” That theme strikes a balance among material aspects, along with spiritual and psychological values.

Such an ideal should not be foreign to Americans, of all people. A vital aspect of our nation’s creation is the belief that all are entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

An inspirational 2006 film starring Will Smith, The Pursuit of Happyness (sic), is based on a true story about an unemployed, homeless, African-American man, Christopher Gardner, trying to take care of his son after his wife leaves him in the midst of financial woes. After a grueling, unpaid, six-month competition with 20 other candidates for a job with Dean Witter, he wins.

Despite the huge odds he faced, he went on to become a millionaire, found his own financial advisory firm and to become a motivational speaker and philanthropist.

Each of us has far smaller odds. Plus, we are privileged to be involved in the vacation ownership industry. It enables of us, in our own ways, whether in sales or otherwise, to be able to help guests become owners and share with their loved ones and friends the ability both to pursue and enjoy happiness during one or more stimulating weeks each year.

Your Four Big Opportunities & Four Big Musts
An article Michael Denisoff wrote that was available to ARDA attendees states that leading in a downturn involves four opportunities and four actions that must be taken. All of these points are vital to sales and marketing, as well as other key aspects of your business.

These are what he believes are the “Four Big Opportunities:”

  1. Maintain or Grow Your Market Share. He says, “Now is a prime time to gain market share. Poorly-led fringe players will simply fall by the wayside.” He recommends you “leverage your strengths.” If yours is “an established brand, present your offering as a low-risk choice tremendous value. If you are an up-and-comer with a great value proposition and can be more flexible and optimistic than your competitors, do it.”
  2. Expand Services and Grow Clients. He believes your should “reassess the environment for new opportunities. Be the first to identify and respond to emerging geographical markets, new niche markets, and cutting edge trends.” Denisoff says, “This is a great time to forge stronger relationships with existing business partners and to reach out to new ones.”
  3. Increase, Improve & Acquire Internal Capabilities. Prosperous companies “are always too busy to fix their broken systems and flawed processes. Now is the time to address these issues,” and you should be “strategic about which ones you focus on.”
  4. Acquire Talent. Denisoff says this is a window to grab the best people. Whereas before you may have had to settle for satisfactory, now you may be able to afford and hire top people.

In brief, these are Denisoff’s “Four Big Musts,” which relate to marketing, sales and survival:

  1. Collections. Use frequent communications and discipline to keep this area under control. Logically, this approach makes sense. Unless you can make and collect on sales, you’re wasting time and money. You can’t afford that in a tough environment.
  2. Improve Spending Practices. Put into place a common-sense approach of appropriate spending in all areas. “These should include sales and marketing. More prosperous times allow more relaxed approaches that you cannot afford when challenges are greater.”
  3. Business Development. He declares, “This is the time to become great at business development and sales. Review and improve the sales process. Be meticulous about each step, eliminating old processes and habits that are no longer best practices. Your sales people should ‘up their game.’” Here again, your survival may depend on improvements in this key area.
  4. Contingency Planning & Hard Decisions. These types of plans and decisions affect all areas of a business, including sales and marketing projections and results. Denisoff advises, “The reality of the downturn may necessitate making hard decisions about divestiture, layoffs, pay cuts and the like. The key here is to be ahead of the game when it comes to these types of decisions. You should already have contingency plans in place and have done robust scenario planning.”

Surviving a Tough Market: Three Top Sales Leaders with Passion
Other speakers at ARDA who dealt directly with sales and marketing issues confirmed the points that Michael Denisoff raised. Keeping, motivating and training the best people, from OPC to sales, have produced better closing percentages, offsetting in part or whole the lower numbers of leads and tours.

In the session on “Successful Sales and Marketing of Timeshares in a Difficult Market,” Shari Levitin, President, Levitin Group; Steve Phelps, Bluegreen Director of Sales; and Maria Margenot, SVP Training & Recruiting of Wyndham Vacation Ownership eloquently confirmed these and related principles. All demonstrated exceptional passion and motivational skills in front of a rapt audience.

This was not only one of the best sessions of the convention, it was also among the most fun. If you were there and didn’t enjoy it and feel their passion, you would have the ability to sleep through a fire drill. With these three dynamos in charge, everyone was fully engaged.

Levitin sported a badge, worn with pride by others, that captured the marketing, sales and overall esprit of ARDA and of her session: “I refuse to participate in this recession.” With her slide show and comments, she stressed the Darwinian nature of evolution in living species, as well as timeshare: only the strongest, most adaptable and smartest survive.

Margenot had a similar attitude. She ignores the doom and gloom, and the news that bring these to the fore. But she cited the time before in her career – when she started in timeshare in 1980 – that also had tough economic challenges. Interest rates on home mortgages, were double or more those now, flights were being hijacked.

Yet, she says, “I wasn’t aware of how bad things were, so I was selling a lot of timeshare and having a great time. The perspective I want to give you: Life goes on in spite of it all. In these 29 years, we saw unprecedented growth. People have met, gotten married, had babies.”

Then she said, “Through it all, they’ve taken their most special thing: their families – on vacation.”

Fired Up, Not Burned Out
In introducing Steve Phelps, Shari Levitin said he “runs a phenomenal organization in Orlando.”

Keys to his success include making it fun for employees, so that everyone gets fired up, doing likewise for prospects, and planning and executing on a well thought-out plan.

He started as a CPA and director of hospitals. But he said he “did it with flair, had a lot of fun, in a business that is not usually viewed as being fun.” This produced tremendous success in that business.

But now we know – he is the missing link, between hospitals and hospitality. The resort industry needs more leaders like him, Sherry and Maria to bridge that gap, to care for their staffs, the customers they serve, and others.

Similar to Margenot, Phelps’s perspective underlines his position. “We don’t sell timeshare, we sell an escape. That is what most people going on vacation are looking for.”

In dealing with employees, he believes that “if you can create a culture where people love what they do, they will go to incredible lengths.”

Simple to say. But to do that, “you’ve got to be fired up and excited about what you do. You have to have a passion about what you sell. If you don’t believe in what you sell, you can’t really sell.”

To build a strong foundation for his beliefs, he bought two timeshares. He recommends a similar purchase to everyone in the industry. After all, how can you sell something you don’t have enough confidence in to buy yourself? That’s also a great way to learn your product.

Phelps also keeps sales staff on track. They start each morning between 6:00 and 6:30 a.m., by planning the day.

He says, “You need time for planning and fixing whatever failed the prior day. Our first tour starts at 7:30 a.m., because people like to go to the theme parks.”

They have two training sessions every morning: beginning and advanced.

But whether for employees or guests, they do not make “work” a four-letter word. “The whole idea is to see how much fun we can have. Employees start jumping around. We give awards each month to whoever does the best job.”

Then they have a serious meeting to get employees fired up. He remarks, “It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you can be successful if you beat everyone to the punch.”

Actually not punch: “We serve piña coladas, cook fresh cookies, and orient the whole experience when we are together to loosen everyone up. We orchestrate it like a show, with have loud music to get people fired up and celebrating each other’s success.”

Both employee lounges have Shari Levitin tapes playing eight hours a day. Phelps says, “If someone just had a bad tour, we want them to use one of Shari’s tapes.”

He promises every one of his managers “they can go home and tell their spouse what we’ve done in their meetings. The more you empower your team, the better they’ll do.” Part of this is to show sales reps you have a winner’s attitude.

Two of his big philosophies are to:
  1. Create a customer experience unlike anything they’ve seen before.
  2. Make employees to practically want to kill to work for his company. Sales and other people who are “ordinary folks will go to extraordinary lengths” when you cultivate that kind of desire and passion in them.

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